Homo Erectus

In Our Time | 12 May 2022 | 0h 51m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, who thrived on Earth for around two million years. Homo erectus spread from Africa to Asia and it was on the Island of Java that fossilised remains were found in 1891 in an expedition led by Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. Homo erectus people adapted to different habitats, ate varied food, lived in groups, had stamina to outrun their prey; and discoveries have prompted many theories on the relationship between their diet and the size of their brains, on their ability as seafarers, on their creativity and on their ability to speak and otherwise communicate.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

In Our Time | 14 October 2021 | 0h 48m | Listen Later | iTunes | Spotify
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the republic that emerged from the union of the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th Century. At first, this was a personal union, similar to that of James I and VI in Britain, but this was formalised in 1569 into a vast republic, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Kings and princes from across Europe would compete for parliament to elect them King and Grand Duke, and the greatest power lay with the parliaments. When the system worked well, the Commonwealth was a powerhouse, and it was their leader Jan Sobieski who relieved the siege of Vienna in 1683, defeating the Ottomans. Its neighbours exploited its parliament’s need for unanimity, though, and this contributed to its downfall. Austria, Russia and Prussia divided its territory between them from 1772, before the new, smaller states emerged in the 20th Century.


In Our Time | 23 September 2021 | 0h 52m | Listen Later | iTunes | Spotify
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek historian Herodotus (c484 to 425 BC or later) who wrote The Histories about the wars between the Greeks and Persians, inquiring into the deep background of the wars, seeking out the best evidence for past events and presenting the range of evidence for readers to assess.

Edward Gibbon

In Our Time | 17 June 2021 | 0h 52m | Listen Later | iTunes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Edward Gibbon, best known for his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published 1776-89). Decline and Fall covers thirteen centuries and is an enormous intellectual undertaking and, on publication, became a phenomenal success across Europe.

The Franco-American Alliance 1778

In Our Time | 22 April 2021 | 0h 50m | Listen Later | iTunes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the treaties France entered into with the United States of America in 1778, to give the USA support in its revolutionary war against Britain and promote French trade across the Atlantic. The French navy played a decisive role in the Americans’ victory, but the fell on French taxpayers, highlighting the need for reforms which in turn led to the French Revolution. Then, when France looked to its American ally for support in the new French revolutionary wars with Britain, Americans had to choose where their longer-term interests lay, and they turned back from the France that had supported them to the Britain they had just been fighting, and France and the USA fell into undeclared war at sea.

David Ricardo

In Our Time | 25 March 2021 | 0h 49m | Listen Later | iTunes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of David Ricardo (1772 -1823). At a time when nations preferred to be self-sufficient, to produce all their own food and manufacture their own goods, and to find markets for export rather than import, Ricardo argued for free trade even with rivals for the benefit of all. He contended that existing economic policy unduly favoured landlords above all others and needed to change, and that nations would be less likely to go to war with their trading partners if they were more reliant on each other.

The Cultural Revolution

In Our Time | 17 December 2020 | 0h 48m | Listen Later | iTunes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Chairman Mao and the revolt he led within his own party from 1966, setting communists against each other, to renew the revolution that he feared had become too bourgeois and to remove his enemies and rivals. Universities closed and the students formed Red Guard factions to attack the ‘four olds’ – old ideas, culture, habits and customs – and they also turned on each other, with mass violence on the streets and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Over a billion copies of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book were printed to support his cult of personality before Mao died in 1976 and the revolution came to an end.


In Our Time | 1 October 2020 | 0h 51m | Listen Later | iTunes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s Macbeth. When three witches prophesy that Macbeth will be king one day, he is not prepared to wait and almost the next day murders King Duncan as he sleeps, a guest at Macbeth’s castle. Discusses their brutal world where few boundaries are distinct – between safe and unsafe, friend and foe, real and unreal, man and beast – until Macbeth too is slaughtered.